The United States has had Election Day, and the Republicans will take over control of the Senate from the Democrats.
Why should you care?
When a party has control of a body of Congress, members of that party chair all the committees in that body. Committees are where most of the work of Congress gets done.
The primary Senate committee concerned with copyright and all these digital rights is the Judiciary Committee. Up to now, the chairman of the committee has been Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont. The change of power will make Orrin Hatch of Utah chairman of the committee.
Before you say “Republican, Utah, RIAA fascist,” you might want to know a few things.
Utah has a lot more high-tech than you might think. WordPerfect originated in Utah. Novell is still there. Micron has a big facility there. It has the second highest percentage of home computer owners in the U.S. (almost 70%).
Senator Hatch has a track record of, if not hate, considerable lack of love for Microsoft. He has given Bill Gates a very hard time in Congressional hearings. He’s flat-out called MS a monopoly that ought to be heavily regulated like one.
Not too many senators put out record albums. Senator Hatch does. He writes lyrics for songs), and he sells them, too.
The website allows you to hear some tracks from some of the earlier albums. OK, it’s not exactly Mormon gangsta rap; the songs are mostly of a religious or patriotic nature.
No, he doesn’t have a record contract. He puts them out himself because he can make a lot more money that way than if he had a record company deal.
Please note two important aspects of that last sentence. He’s personally dealt with music companies, and said “No thanks” (among other less-than-glowing things about that industry).
Secondly, while he’s personally willing to provide free samples of his music, he personally wants to get paid for his work. He doesn’t believe in others deciding that his work should get “shared.”
So copyright protection and digital rights and the music business are no abstract concepts to this man. This is personal.
In Orrin Hatch, we have someone who isn’t going to swallow whole either the RIAA nor the free content argument. He’s made it very clear in his public statements that’s he favors a middle position.
“While philosophically we agree that the market, with its business and technical expertise, ought to try to solve these issues, I think there is a useful role for Congress, too, in reaching or implementing creator- and consumer-friendly agreements in at least three ways.
“First, we can help set deadlines and push for agreement where there may be deadlocks that ultimately hurt both artists and consumers; second, we can help set balanced objectives and priorities; and, third, we can codify consensus policies or minimum standards. . . .
“I also believe it is necessary for Congress to help ensure that consumer expectations will be more fully respected than they might otherwise be in private agreement.
“For example, I would like to be certain that as new controls are placed on digital content, that consumers are allowed to make legitimate personal copies as they have done before, and use those copies as they have been accustomed to doing. Music fans want to take their music with them in the car, on the beach, to a party. Movie and sports fans want to watch on their big screens, not just on their computer monitors.
“Now, let me state clearly, as we discuss consumer rights and expectations, we all should not forget that consumers will have nothing to enjoy if there was not the incentive for artists and creators to develop entertainment content and share it with us. . . . As with many things, this is a balancing act, but if there is one thing Congress does regularly, it is to balance interests.
Consumers want rich content. To get the creators of that rich content to share it in emerging interactive digital systems, they must be assured that destructive misuse will not undermine their businesses.
“On the other hand, consumers also want to use and enjoy that content with the advanced ease, superior quality, and enhanced enjoyment that the new digital systems allow.”
This is the person who is going to be largely responsible for deciding what’s going to happen in digital rights (actually, all the other members of the committee pretty much think the same way). You can see he wants balance. He’s not going to buy an extremist argument from either side.
Think about it in the weeks and months ahead.